Mele Kalikimaka By Taylor Bennett Book Review

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….

Well, not really, but Christmas is coming SO SOON, guys! I can hardly wait to start decorating, baking cookies, shopping for gifts, singing along to Christmas music (Lauren Daigle’s Christmas album is my favorite!), and reading Christmas books. This year, I’m happy to have another book to read during the Christmas season: Mele Kalikimaka by Taylor Bennett, the author of Porch Swing Girl and Sand Castle Dreams.

My Rating: Four and a Half Christmas Ornaments out of Five

About the Book…

Mele Kalikimaka might be the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day, but Olive Galloway is feeling less than festive. After all, this is the first year she’s celebrated the holiday without her mom. Even the ringing of silver bells sounds a little blue. When an attempt to make the season bright ends in hurt feelings and a shattered heirloom, Olive’s hopes for a happy holiday are dashed. A surprise visit from a less-than-jolly fellow in red only adds to the turmoil. Olive is convinced that nothing can possibly bring peace to her corner of the earth. As presents pile up beneath the tree and Christmas Day draws near, Olive realizes it will take a Christmas miracle to help her family rediscover the true magic of the holiday season. 

Buy Mele Kalikimaka on Amazon ~ View Mele Kalikimaka on Goodreads

My Thoughts…

Mele Kalikimaka is a Tradewinds series novella that begins around the time that Sand Castle Dreams ends. After the Thanksgiving festivities of Sand Castle Dreams, the Christmas season comes in full swing in Lahaina, Hawaii. Olive Galloway, the protagonist of the Tradewinds series, is feeling anything but merry this Christmas season. But when she tries to make the Christmas season merry and bright, things don’t exactly go as she planned. Will Olive learn the true meaning of Christmas this year?

“Must be Christmas magic.” I shrug and take another sip of cocoa.
Magic.
And maybe it really is.
Not the Santa-and-sleigh-bells kind of magic, but the kind Jazz is always

talking about. The magic of a Savior come to earth as a baby to redeem
the world.
-Mele Kalikimaka by Taylor Bennett

This novella is packed with Christmas, and I absolutely love that! Christmas is everywhere, from traditions to decorations to treats to music to the plot itself. And of course, all of the amazingness from the Tradewinds novels has found itself in this novella. From Grandma Bonnie’s treats to Jazz’s upbeat and sunny self to the sweet message of the true reason for the Christmas season, Mele Kalikimaka is sure to become a Christmas favorite!

If you’re a fan of the Tradewinds series, a lover of YA Christian fiction, or someone who loves Christmas books, be sure to grab a copy of this sweet little novella!

Note: I received a free copy of this novella in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

About the Author…

Taylor Bennett is the seventeen-year-old author of contemporary YA fiction. Homeschooled since kindergarten, she is a proud homebody who suffers from the rare–yet always severe–case of wanderlust. 

Although she dreams of traveling to many different places, her favorite destination thus far (aside from her charming hometown in Oregon) is Lahaina, Hawaii. Taylor was so enamored with this tropical town that she became determined to write about it, hence her debut novel, Porch Swing Girl, the first in a series of books set in Hawaii.

A lover of literature since birth, Taylor found her love of writing fueled under the instruction of Andrew Pudewa and the other teachers at the Institute for Excellence in Writing, where she now works as an editor for their magazine.

When she isn’t writing, Taylor enjoys cooking, drawing, and taking long walks in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest

Visit Taylor’s Website ~ Find Taylor on Instagram

What is one of your favorite Christmas traditions?

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BOOK REVIEW: Every Bright and Broken Thing by Brian McBride

Every Bright and Broken Thing by Brian McBride is a book that you won’t soon forget.

Full of beautiful prose, this book is sure to break your heart. The story will haunt you and leave you aching. Read on for more of my thoughts on Every Bright and Broken Thing.

My Rating: Three and a Half out of Five Astronaut Murals

About the Book…

Haunted by the last question their mother ever asked them, the Greyson brothers struggle to cope with their grief and adjust to life after tragedy.

Semi-popular sixteen-year-old Liam spends his nights performing as the lead singer of his high school indie pop/rock band, Liam and the Landmarks. But something happened to Liam four years ago at his friend’s house – a secret Liam will take to his grave. But in small towns like Summit, Colorado, secrets always seem to find their way out. 

Twenty-four-year-old Ezra thought that he could cure his grief when he left Summit behind for a prestigious art school in Chicago, but things only got worse. Now a college dropout working at a gas station mini mart, he turns to alcohol, prescription painkillers, and meaningless one-night stands. But Ezra can’t run forever – life always catches up with you. 

With abrasively honest dual-perspective narratives, Every Bright and Broken Thing illustrates the unbreakable bond between brothers and the power in coming home.

Click Here to View Every Bright and Broken Thing on Goodreads ~ Click Here to Buy Every Bright and Broken Thing on Amazon

What I Loved…

The friendships in this book are so good. All too often, friendships get snubbed in YA fiction and romance is put on center stage, but that’s not so here! Yes, there is romance. But I feel like the friendships are just as, if not even more, important.

The author has a beautiful writing style; it’s full of prose and almost sounds like poetry. Here’s a quote from Every Bright and Broken Thing just to prove it: “I try to see my life in color, but the colors fall flat. Dull. Muted. Completely and irrevocably unspectacular.”

I loved the author’s descriptions. From settings to characters to thoughts to actions, everything that the author wove together read like art.

Just seeing Christian fiction makes me happy okay? I love love love Christian fiction and it’s really important and exciting to see another YA Christian fiction writer share a story, which is one reason I was so excited to see this book!

THAT COVER. It looks so good and am I being shallow mentioning how much I love it here? I hope not because WOW that is a great cover. And speaking of the cover…

Everything about this book is really professional, which you don’t often see in indie books. I was very impressed with this. If you had just handed me a page and asked me if the book was indie or traditionally published, I would’ve said traditional (not because indie is bad but because indie books don’t exactly have a reputation for looking professional).

The Sanctuary was so good to see in fiction. I wish that I could go there and volunteer and that a place like that was real for all of the homeless people of Chicago.

The supporting cast of characters (including Mama Gracie!) MADE this book. The author poured so much personality into the supporting characters, and it showed! I loved this so much because too often side characters get pushed to, well, the side. Here the author did them justice.

I love seeing guy main characters in a Christian fiction book. In my opinion, there aren’t enough guys, or really enough diversity, in Christian fiction. I loved seeing it here.

What I Didn’t Love…

It seemed overly poetic and prose-y sometimes. While I LOVED the writing style, sometimes I felt like it was… Too much. At some points it felt like the author was leaning too heavily on prose to tell the story. I loved the prose, but felt that there was just a bit much of it.

I felt like Every Bright and Broken Thing didn’t focus as much on the question that the boys’ mom asked them as I thought it would. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but I kinda wished I saw a bit more of it.

The ending felt super abrupt. Everything sort of just happened and then the book was over. Although it was a good ending that had me wanting to know more about where Liam and Ezra would end up, I wished that there was a little more to it.

I felt like the characters’ arcs barely changed during the book and then all of the sudden drastically changed. One moment they are lost and completely broken, and then the next they realize what they need to do. I could be the only one, but I felt that this happened too suddenly.

There were vague mentions of the church hurting the family, but we didn’t get a good picture of how or why. I thought that this should have been expanded upon a bit since it was such a big part as to why Ezra and Liam left God and the church behind.

It felt like the tone almost never changed. Everything felt dramatic, dark, and gloomy. I wish that the tone had some more changes instead of just staying at one level.

A Note on the Content…

This book is probably one of the few Christian fiction books I’ve read that isn’t afraid to get into the dark, gritty parts of our world. These subjects are not handled comfortably, and, frankly, they shouldn’t be handled in a way that makes us feel comfortable because we should not feel comfortable with these subjects. However, these subjects do need to be handled with care. I feel that the author did an okay job of not getting into too much detail while still conveying reality. Some of the subjects dealt with include: Alcohol, drugs, sex, rape, and thoughts of suicide and self-harm, amongst some other things.

With that said, I understand that not everyone is okay with reading books that have such heavy themes and topics. Because of the heavy themes and topics that Every Bright and Broken Thing deals with, I would not recommend it to younger teens. I’d say that a good age range for this novel would be at least 16+.

I will be doing a blog post series on hard topics in Christian fiction soon, so stay tuned for that!

Conclusion…

This was a very hard book to read because of the characters’ hurt and pain and because of the heavy topics it deals with. And that is not a bad thing. We need books that are hard to read, that illustrate the reality of our world and offer us hope and healing as this book does. Some other elements (not the “hard to read” aspect) kept me from falling as in love with this book as I wish I could have. However, it is a good book, and I’m sure that many others will enjoy this story and find hope within its pages.

About the Author…

A winner of the 2016 Wattys Award, Brian McBride published the award-winning Young Adult Contemporary debut, Love and the Sea and Everything in Between, in 2018.

Born and raised in Oregon, Brian moved to California at sixteen, where he has lived ever since. He’s been writing since he was thirteen-years-old and has been reading for longer. Brian is pursuing a degree in Social Work, which he hopes to use to aid children and families. A fourth generation pastor and founder of the Pioneer Movement, he is passionate about his faith and longs to see Christians become all that they are called to be. Among other things, he is also passionate about iced tea, animals, adoption, and the arts.

Find Brian McBride on Instagram @brianmcbrideauthor and click here to visit his website.

Note: I received a free ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Have you read Every Bright and Broken Thing? What are some indie books that you enjoy?

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Book Review: Sand Castle Dreams by Taylor Bennet

Usually, when it comes time for a sequel, I prepare myself to be disappointed. I find that sequels can never quite live up to their predecessors. But in Sand Castle Dreams, I happily found a sequel that is just as good as its predecessor. Keep on reading to learn more! =)

My Rating: Four and a Half Slices of Key Lime Pie out of Five

About the Book…

Sometimes we have to face our greatest fears in order to become whole again.

Returning to Maui after one of the most challenging summers of her life, sixteen-year-old Olive Galloway is ready for things to return to normal—or, at least, a new normal. But even though she and her sister are back on the island they love, nothing is the same since they left for Boston a few months ago. Olive’s friend Jazz is hiding a secret—possibly something even worse than the cancer diagnosis she received earlier in the year. Can Olive ever stop running from memories of all they’ve lost?

When their friend Brander suggests Jazz attends the church’s teen support group, Olive thinks it’s a great idea—until Jazz insists that Olive join her. While the group is the perfect place for Olive to share her struggles, she wants nothing to do with it. Instead, grief threatens to roll over her like the ocean waves, and tiny fibs turn into looming secrets. When a scruffy puppy and one viral video send another storm rolling into Olive’s life, she ends up face-to-face with her biggest fear. And the only way to make it out of the tempest is to go straight through.

Buy Sand Castle Dreams on Amazon ~ View Sand Castle Dreams on Goodreads

What I Loved….

I loved the way that friendships were portrayed. Brander, Jazz, and Olive are such a great friend group! I wish that YA fiction had more friend groups like them. Too often YA books focus on romance. Which brings me to my next point…

The “romance” going on didn’t take over the story. The focus of the story wasn’t on the romance, and the subtle romance didn’t take over the story as it does in so many books. I loved this because being teenager is about so much more than dating and breakups.

The character arcs were phenomenal. It was exciting to be able to see how Olive and the other characters grew and progressed from Porch Swing Girl.

All of the desserts that Olive’s grandmother made!!! Um, yes, this is a total highlight. Can Olive’s grandmother just cook for me? Yes? Perfect! And you can actually have some of her cooking by making the recipe in the back of the book! Don’t you love it when there are recipes in the back of books?

The themes and messages packed into this book were a big highlight for me. From dealing with grief to authenticity to saying goodbye to helping friends, the themes, examples, and messages in Sand Castle Dreams are sure to uplift, encourage, and inspire readers, as well as bring them closer to God.

The setting of Lahaina, Hawaii, was so well written. I felt like I was in Hawaii eating shave ice and walking along the ocean with Olive and company. I really, really want to go to Hawaii now…

“It’s okay to cry, sweetie. It only means you have a heart so full it doesn’t have room for tears.”

-Sand Castle Dreams by Taylor Bennet

What I Didn’t Love…

Olive slightly annoyed me sometimes. She seemed a bit whiny at times, in my opinion. A bit whiny and moody, but she made up for it in the end. =) 

It felt a bit preachy at times. Olive’s friends and grandmother seemed to “preach” a bit to Olive. I feel like themes and messages could have been delivered better in different ways and been just as, if not even more, effective.

Conclusion…

Sand Castle Dreams is the epitome of a good summer read. It’s got a summery setting. It has a great group of friends. And, most importantly, there’s a lot of dessert. 😉 I’d highly recommend this to anyone who loves YA Christian fiction or a good contemporary story.

About the Author…

Taylor Bennett is the seventeen-year-old author of contemporary YA fiction. Homeschooled since kindergarten, she is a proud homebody who suffers from the rare–yet always severe–case of wanderlust. 

Although she dreams of traveling to many different places, her favorite destination thus far (aside from her charming hometown in Oregon) is Lahaina, Hawaii. Taylor was so enamored with this tropical town that she became determined to write about it, hence her debut novel, Porch Swing Girl, the first in a series of books set in Hawaii.

A lover of literature since birth, Taylor found her love of writing fueled under the instruction of Andrew Pudewa and the other teachers at the Institute for Excellence in Writing, where she now works as an editor for their magazine.

When she isn’t writing, Taylor enjoys cooking, drawing, and taking long walks in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest

Visit Taylor’s Website ~ Find Taylor on Instagram

Note: I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Have you read Sand Castle Dreams? What would you do on a trip to Hawaii?

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BOOK REVIEW: The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson

The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson sat on my TBR for much, much too long. Once I received it from my grandparents for my birthday, I was so excited to start reading. And once I started reading, I couldn’t put this book down!

My Rating: Four and a Half Imaginary Friends out of Five

About the Book

All her life Fern has been told she is blind to reality—but, what if she is the only one who can truly see?

Fern Johnson is crazy. At least, that’s what the doctors have claimed since her childhood. Now nineteen, and one step away from a psych ward, Fern struggles to survive in bustling Los Angeles. Desperate to appear normal, she represses the young man flickering at the edge of her awareness—a blond warrior only she can see.

Tristan was Fern’s childhood imaginary hero, saving her from monsters under her bed and outside her walls. As she grew up and his secret world continued to bleed into hers, however, it only caused catastrophe. But, when the city is rocked by the unexplainable, Fern is forced to consider the possibility that this young man is not a hallucination after all—and that the creature who decimated his world may be coming for hers.

Find The Girl Who Could See on Goodreads ~ Buy The Girl Who Could See on Amazon

What I Loved

The whole concept of this book is brilliant. Imaginary friends, other worlds, Los Angeles, the FBI… Kara Swanson blended all of this and so much more into one fantastic story that had me daydreaming about Fern, Tristan, and their world for a long time. And speaking of Fern and Tristan…

The characters of this book are unforgettable. I’m sure that I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: Characters can either make or break a book for me. Fern, Tristan, and the rest of the cast of characters MADE this book for me. They’re so real and perfect and precious. I loved them all!

“If I’m not broken, then what am I?”

Tristan’s voice softens. “You’re the only one on this planet who is truly whole.”

-The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson

The adventure the story takes you on is one that you won’t want to walk away from. The plot of the story, combined with the characters, suck you into another world, or shall I say, Fern’s world. It was SO HARD for me to put this book down. So hard that I didn’t. 😉

The ending of The Girl Who Could See is perfection. But to find out just how perfect it is, you have to read it. So what are you doing? Go grab a copy!

The cover of this book…. THERE ARE NO WORDS.

What I Didn’t Love

I wish that it could’ve been longer. The Girl Who Could See is perfect in its novella-sized package, but I can’t help but wish that it could’ve been a little longer. I would’ve loved to see more of the amazing characters and their stories!

Overall

The Girl Who Could See captivates both the imagination and the emotions. This book is a real treat not just for fantasy and sci-fi fans, but for all bookworms who love a good story and a good adventure.

About the Author

As the daughter of missionaries, KARA SWANSON spent her childhood in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Able to relate to characters dropped into a unique new world, she fell in love with the fantasy genre and was soon penning stories herself. At seventeen, she released a fantasy novel, Pearl of Merlydia. She received the Mount Hermon Most Promising Teen Writer award in 2015.

Kara loves to hang out with other book nerds and chocolate enthusiasts on Instagram (@karaswansonauthor), Twitter (@kara_author), Facebook (Kara Swanson, Author) and on her website (karaswanson.com).

Have you read The Girl Who Could See? Did you ever have an imaginary friend?

Want To Read More?

BOOK REVIEW: A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews is a lot like bittersweet chocolate. There is bitterness at parts that will break your heart, but there is also sweetness at every other part of this page-turning debut novel.

My Rating: Four Perfect Notes out of Five

About the Book

An emotionally charged story of music, abuse and, ultimately, hope.

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music – because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?

Find A Thousand Perfect Notes on Goodreads ~ Buy A Thousand Perfect Notes on Amazon

What I Loved

August, Beck, and Joey are characters that will stick with you long after you’ve finished reading. Characters are what make or break a story for me. In this book, the characters MADE the story. Seriously. Beck, August, and Joey could’ve sat around eating cake and I would have still loved this book.

CAKE CAKE CAKE. How could one not love a book with plenty of cake in it?

The simple moments in this story became rich and beautiful. I love when contemporary authors make real life magical. C.G. Drews did just that. Moments such as playing at an old playground and eating cake became whimsical and sad all at once.

“You are worth more than a thousand perfect notes.”

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews

August didn’t fix Beck. Too often in fiction, and especially in romance, one character “fixes” the other. This is not the case in A Thousand Perfect Notes. August is always there for Beck, always offering hope and healing. She was there for him and she supported him no matter what.

The musical aspects of the story. If you know me, you know that I am not at all a musical person. I couldn’t sing or play an instrument to save my life. But I do love to listen to music. The music in A Thousand Perfect Notes leaps off the pages and into your ears and soul. I loved that Beck loved to compose music and how music practically flowed through his veins. And it was classical music. I for one enjoy listening to classical music (Handel and Mozart are two of my favorite composers). It was refreshing to find a teenager in fiction who does as well!

What I Didn’t Love

There was a smattering of foul language. Call me a grandma, but I’m not a fan of language in fiction. I feel like it takes more away from the story than it does add to it. The language in this book was mostly in German, but there were some other instances that were in English.

Content Warning: Beck suffers a lot of different kinds of abuse, including physical and mental abuse, at the hands of the Maestro, which is a big part of the story. The author gets into quite a bit of detail about the abuse. Some of the characters mention violence or are violent as well. And there is the bit of language that I mentioned above.

Overall

A Thousand Perfect Notes is a book that at times is hard to read because of the abuse Beck suffers, but it is also a book that is hard to put down because of the hope, healing, and love that he finds in a girl named August. For all of you who love vivid and fun characters, Beethoven, cake, and bittersweet stories–this book is most definitely for you.

About the Author

C.G. Drews lives in Australia with her piano and the goal of reading every book in existence. Consequently, her brain has overflowed with words and she spends her days writing novels to make you laugh or cry (or both). She never sleeps and believes in cake for breakfast. She blogs at paperfury.com. Find her on Instagram @paperfury.

Have you read A Thousand Perfect Notes? What’s your favorite song?

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BOOK REVIEW: Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker

Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker is a book that you simply can’t put down once you pick it up. The charming characters, 1960s Georgia setting, and peach pies will have you glued to this book from beginning to end. Read on for my thoughts on Chasing Jupiter.

My Rating: Four Peach Pies out of Five

About the Book

Scarlett Blaine’s life in 1960s Georgia isn’t always easy, especially given her parents’ financial struggles and the fights surrounding her sister Juli’s hippie lifestyle. Then there’s Scarlett’s brother, Cliff. While she loves him more than anything, there’s no denying his unique behavior leaves Cliff misunderstood and left out. So when he wishes for a rocket to Jupiter, Scarlett agrees to make it happen, no matter how crazy the idea might be.

Raising the rocket money means baking pies, and the farmer’s son, Frank, agrees to provide the peaches if Scarlett will help him talk to Juli. The problem is, Scarlett really enjoys her time with Frank, and finds herself wondering if, someday, they could be more than friends. Just as she thinks everything might be going her way, Cliff suffers an accident that not only affects the rocket plans, but shakes Scarlett’s view of God. As the summer comes to an end, Scarlett must find a way to regain what she’s lost, but also fulfill a promise to launch her brother’s dream.

Find Chasing Jupiter on Goodreads ~ Buy Chasing Jupiter on Amazon

What I Loved

The characters were absolutely wonderful. I think that they could’ve all sat around eating peach pie and this book would be just as good. Grandpop Barley, Cliff, Scarlett, Frank…. All of them were sweet and eccentric in their own way.

The setting was perfect for the story. I just wanted to get lost in 1960s Georgia with Frank, Scarlett, and Cliff. Rachel Coker made the setting very real and very vivid. I could almost imagine that I was in Georgia myself!

“You can stay perched in your bird cage forever. Or you can fly.”

Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker

The story made me smile multiple times. Who couldn’t smile when Cliff writes a sign in Spanish or argues with Grandpop Barley? And who couldn’t smile at such tender moments as the ones with Frank in the peach orchard?

God’s love and grace were evident on the pages. I loved that God’s love and grace changed Scarlett’s life and the lives of those around her. The author showed this beautifully in Chasing Jupiter.

Who couldn’t love all of the peach pies? You had better have a peach pie nearby as you read this book, or you will get very hungry. Trust me on this one, okay? 😉

What I Didn’t Love

I felt like everything was wrapped up a bit too quickly. One moment there was a disaster, and then in the next twenty or so pages, everything was resolved. I wish that there had been more pages dedicated to the resolution and falling action of the novel.

The story wandered into preachy territory at times. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I feel like the author could’ve brought the themes across in a more subtle, meaningful way.

Overall

Chasing Jupiter is the perfect summer read. If you love endearing characters, historical fiction, peach pies, and rockets to Jupiter, then this book is most definitely for you.

About the Author

Rachel Coker resides in Virginia with her parents and two sisters. She has a passion for great books, and has been surrounded by them all her life. Her gift for writing became apparent at the age of eleven, at which time her parents signed her up for a year of lessons with a professional writing coach. Rachel also has a deep love for classical music and old black-and-white movies. When she is not writing or playing the piano, Rachel enjoys spending time with her family and friends and serving her Lord and Savior.

Have you read Chasing Jupiter? If you could fly to any planet, what planet would you fly to?